When I was at School

When I was at school in 1998 the film of the year for everyone to try and watch illicitly, as we were all under age, was Saving Private Ryan. The opening scenes of carnage on Omaha beach were the subject of discussion during many cold mornings waiting for the school bus. I was twelve at the time. When my parents rented Saving Private Ryan we gathered around the TV to watch it. My mum, disturbed by the beach landings, stopped the tape. Not much later, when my parents replaced a dead TV with a wide-screen CRT and bought an ONdigital tuner with a subscription to Film4, I recorded The Thin Red Line. At this point I doubt I’d have seen all of Saving Private Ryan. This would probably be in 2000. I doubt that it would have aired on terrestrial TV by then.

Now to me, both then and now, The Thin Red Line is the superior approach at making a war movie. It was a revelation to a bored thirteen year old stuck in dreary Midlands. A beautiful, existential and truthful vision of the Pacific war which is quite unlike the sentimental cowboy version of history presented in Saving Private Ryan. It seems that even then my instincts for narrative truth were tuned away from closure and exposition. I find it interesting that the HBO series The Pacific contrasts with their earlier series Band of Brothers in a similar way. (Although it would be churlish to call Band of Brothers a cowboy film in the same way Saving Private Ryan is.) Maybe this represents a fundamental differences between the two campaigns. See also cinematic depictions of Vietnam and the Iraq wars.

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